Third-year Coach Karen Richter says there will be plenty of excitement surrounding this game and playing the Tarheels only adds to it. "We feel pretty good," Richter says. "The girls are excited and nervous, but not scared. We've gained a great deal of confidence playing as well as we have and hopefully we'll carry that into Friday night."
Auburn is 4-1-1 and ranked No. 7 in the central region by Soccer Buzz Magazine. The Tigers earned their first-ever national ranking two weeks ago after winning the University of Virginia Tournament. In doing so, Richter and company upset regionally-ranked St. Louis, 2-1, in the first round and then shocked the sixth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers, 1-0, in the championship game to capture the tournament title. Auburn dropped from the rankings after losing to 18th-ranked West Virginia in double-overtime last Friday.
Richter says the victory over the Cavaliers gives her program some respect from around the country. "That win alone will give our program some credibility and people are still talking about it and what a legitimate win it was," Richter adds.
The Tigers face a North Carolina team that is the reigning national champions and off to a 6-0 start already this season. UNC has already faced two Southeastern Conference teams this season beating Georgia 9-0 and Tennessee 5-2. The Volunteers were the first team to score this season against the Tarheels, who have outscored their opponents 30-2.
North Carolina has been the most dominant team in women's collegiate soccer since head coach Anson Dorrance built the program from scratch 23 seasons ago. The Tarheels are 492-22-11 and have won 16 national championships.
A game with this much excitement surrounding it is expected to bring out some nervousness in players, but goalkeeper Megan Rivera says her team has nothing to lose. "We are all very excited," Rivera says. "It is our first night game. So, we're just going to go out there and play our hardest and try to win. They have good players on the team. They are very strong all around. We just have to come out be ready to play."
Goalkeeper Megan Rivera makes a diving stop in practice for the Tarheels on Thursday.
Rivera is a true freshman who has played on U.S. junior national teams with several of the Tarheel players. She has been solid in goal for the Tigers in her first six collegiate games stopping 29 of 32 shots and has a .49 goals against average. Rivera says she thinks the Tarheels respect that the Tigers beat their ACC-rival earlier in the season, but it won't stop them from being confident coming in. "Right now they are coming in very confident and thinking they are going to beat us," she adds. "That might go against them."
Senior forward Tammy Waine says just the chance to play the Tarheels is going to help the Tigers. "The whole team is really looking forward to it," Waine says. "We're going to have a big crowd. It's the first game under the lights and playing a team on UNC's stature is going to be a great experience for all of us."
Tammy Waine is AU's leading scorer.
Waine leads the Tigers with four goals and freshman Sarah Steinmann ranks second with three goals. Waine says beating Virginia has given the Tigers a much-needed confidence boost heading into their match with the Tarheels. "We all knew we were potentially good and beating Virginia was evidence of that," Waine adds. "But, we know the difference between No. 6 and No. 1 and UNC is a great team."
Sophomore Kellie Evans leads the Tigers with four assists. Auburn has only beaten three nationally-ranked teams during the program's history. The win against Virginia came this season and victories over 15th-ranked Kentucky in 1996 and 20th-ranked Marquette last season.
Admission to the AU-UNC match is free to the public and the first 500 fans will receive a free T-shirt commemorating the Tigers' first-ever night match.